Over the last few years, society has become more individualized and more open to diversity. In this age of "big data," the ability to communicate effectively is a critical skill. To succeed now and into the future, leaders must be master communicators and understand how to use language in the right way. Communication is not just about transmitting the information. Collaborating, resolving conflict and empathy skills are also important. In this article I'll cover the following topics:
A lot of people have been told all about the importance of communication and how vital it can be in all walks of life. Some people have heard it so many times that the mere mention of communication skills earns an eye roll. For a long time, I was one of those people.
I didn’t want to think that there was more to communicating than the regular talking that I’ve been doing for my entire life. How much more could there really be?
Eventually, I had to accept that communication really is important, but then I had to accept that communication is extremely difficult. For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the fact that communication is different depending on the culture that you’re focusing on. We need to talk about how different communication can look on an individual level.
There are five levels of communication that all come into play and work together regardless of whether we’re speaking to a million people, or just one.
Verbal Communication Skills
Verbal communication may be one of the easier parts of speaking, depending on the situation. Regardless, verbal communication is what you say. If you’re giving a presentation that you know about ahead of time, you have time to prepare your verbal aspect and plan out exactly what you’re going to say. Having the chance to plan it out ahead of time can help you ensure that your message gets across effectively.
In a more intimate, one-on-one conversation, there is more room for misunderstandings. It can be difficult to make sure that you’re accurately conveying the message that you intend. Being that the other person is an unreliable factor in this situation, even if you were to plan out what you intended to say beforehand, they could say something that will throw you off track entirely.
Circle of concern
One-on-one conversations call for more flexibility and adaptability on your part. With no opportunity to edit what you say or already said, it’s almost invaluable to take a second and think about the message you want to convey and if you’ll be able to do it effectively. An important thing to remember, not only in communication but always, is that you cannot control what the other person does or how they react, you can only control yourself.
The other four levels of communication work together, making up how you say what you say. These four levels include the auditory, energetic, emotional, and physical delivery of your message.
Auditory Communication Skills
Auditory communication is how you sound. This is where your pace, volume, tone, and vocal range/fluctuations come into play. More likely than not, if you’re speaking so softly that nobody can hear you or that people have to strain to understand what you’re saying, odds are they’ll stop doing so. Living in a world where people like it when things are easy, they don’t want to work so hard to listen.
Speaking clearly, at a reasonable pace that stays within the extremes of speaking excruciatingly slowly and at the rate of an auctioneer, at a volume that also falls within the happy medium, all while fluctuating your vocal range seems nearly impossible to tackle all at once.
Sound like you
If you’re worried about how you sound, try to focus on one thing at a time. For example, I have been told by countless people how fast I talk. I contribute this to the fact that I also have a rather small voice most of the time so when I do get my break in the conversation and it’s my turn to speak, I try to spit it all out quickly.
I’m sure we all have people in our lives that never hear what we said the first time, I know I do. When I talk to these specific people, I make it a point to project my voice ahead of time so that I don’t have to deal with the frustration of repeating myself three times.
Another thing I’ve started to implement into my speaking, especially when I know I’m in a setting that is unfamiliar with the pace of my usual speaking, is taking breaths between sentences. For me, this is easier in a one-on-one setting rather than giving a speech. I’m a writer and when I have time to plan what I’m going to say, I usually run with it. If you only have a small window of time and a lot to say, try editing out the fluff and be more direct so that you won’t have to speak at 90 miles a minute in order to get it all out.
If you have the opportunity, try to figure out what works best for you and what will remind you to keep yourself in check. Try taking a deep breath beforehand to calm any potential nerves. Remind yourself to pause to take a breath if you’re talking so fast and saying so much that you’re running out of air.
Energetic Communication Skills
Energetic communication includes factors that aren’t visible to the naked eye. This has more to do with the subtle energies or even the harmonics of the message. This may come to some more naturally than others as some people are born with a unique quality. This aforementioned unique quality helps people convey their message to others in a clear way that leaves little room for misunderstandings. These people may not have to work as hard as others to achieve the same goal.
Emotional Communication Skills
Emotional communication may not be for everyone. There is a vast amount of people that try to keep their emotions under wraps and as far away from other people as possible. Although being emotional may be uncomfortable at times, everyone should learn how to not only tap into their own emotions and better understand them, but also the emotions of others.
A lot of the time, people will make decisions based on their emotions at that particular moment in time. Depending on what your mission is and whether or not you’re trying to convince someone to do something, this may be an important factor. This can be on a smaller scale like when you would judge what mood your parents were in before you asked them for something, or on a larger level like trying to make someone feel passionately enough about something that they will be willing to take action.
Now, looking at the other side of the situation, you need to know how to control and interpret your own emotions as a speaker. Your goal is to appeal to the emotional side of whoever you may be speaking to, but this is a fine line to walk. If you’re overly emotional, it can make people uncomfortable and potentially view you as an unreliable speaker. If you’re not emotional enough, especially where it matters most, your audience may think that you simply don’t care about what you’re talking about.
Think about what you would be attracted to in a speaker and what would draw you in. Consider what characteristics you’ve seen in other speakers before and thoroughly enjoyed. If you have the opportunity to go see someone speak, do it. Bring a notebook with you to quickly take note of the things that worked for you, or even seemed to work for the majority of the audience.
Although working with your emotions to make them come across in a certain way can be tricky, the hardest part is making sure that you’re still being authentic. It can be difficult to be so vulnerable, especially when you’re in front of an audience, but a lot of people will appreciate that you trust them enough to show them that vulnerable side of yourself and potentially trust you in return.
Try also taking notes of the things that you’ve seen before that haven’t worked, whether that means it didn’t work for you, or the audience didn’t respond in the way that the speaker was clearly hoping for.
As someone who doesn’t consider “funny” to be one of their traits, I may try to include jokes in my speech or even my everyday conversation, and most times, they aren’t well-received. The jokes that I include that I believe are cute and quirky may not be received well.
And that’s okay.
What matters more than the fact that your joke failed is how you recover from it. If you allow your failed joke to drag you down for the rest of the time that you hold the attention of the audience, they’ll notice it and most likely lose interest.
I recently had to give a speech and I added a joke right in the beginning. When I was practising my speech, I alternated between the two options that I gave myself. Either
a.) I would have the amazing opportunity to pause for the laughter to die down or
b.) I would say “It’s okay, my boyfriend doesn’t like my cheesy dad jokes either.”
I knew in the depths of my heart that my joke most likely wouldn’t get the laughter that I hoped for and imagined in my wildest dreams. If I was confident in my sense of humour, I wouldn’t have prepared another option. However, I kept Option B light, airy, and hoped that I would get a couple of chuckles one way or another.
Low and behold after all the practising that I did, I didn’t even get to give this presentation in front of my expected audience, so I didn’t get to test out my joke, but I was comfortable and confident in the fact that I was prepared for either scenario thanks to the planning that I did beforehand.
Physical Communication Skills
Physical communication is a major part of nonverbal communication and covers a plethora of things from eye contact, posture, breathing patterns, facial expressions, and gestures. If you’re like me and you unintentionally wear exactly what you’re feeling on your face, you may have to reign this in a little bit. Your body is already cluing everybody around you in on how you’re feeling.
As goes with most things that are related to communication, physical communication is a two-way street. Not only can you make sure to correct any misleading things about your own physical being, but you can also eventually decipher how the other party is feeling. Their body language can tell you if they’re bored to tears or if they’re truly engaged.
Having this insight works in your favor as it can help you understand whether you need to adjust any parts of the way that you’re communicating or if you can achieve the success that you seek simply by continuing what you were doing.
Even in a one-on-one conversation, you can tell how someone feels about you based on how they react to you physically. When you and the person that you are speaking to mirror one another, it can help increase their receptivity to the message that you are trying to get across.
Connecting with someone and aligning yourself with them physically can help make both parties more comfortable and bring them to a level playing field.
Although there are a lot of moving parts that all work together to ensure that you are getting your message across effectively and efficiently, you can only get better with practice. Test out some of your new ideas on how to connect with people on those who are closest to you and can provide helpful feedback.
There is an obvious difference in the way that people communicate based on whether or not they understand the depths that the roots of communication run. We may have the greatest number of methods of communication than ever before, but people have been communicating with each other since long before we all had phones glued to our hands.
Technology & Communication
We currently live in a world where we have the alleged ability to communicate at our fingertips, but telecommunicating is not as effective as communicating face to face. I’m sure this is easy to understand when you think about the lack of a connection that you feel when you’re staring at a computer screen with a bunch of little boxes with even smaller faces, and that’s if they have their camera on.
Technology is great but has complicated communication as if it wasn’t already difficult enough. With the infinite possibilities for communication to be successful or a complete failure, taking away the intimacy and personability of looking someone in the eyes can truly be detrimental.
When it comes to trust, technology gets in the way of this as well. First, it’s widely known that social media is not an accurate representation of anyone’s life. However, this misrepresentation seems to trick us every time as the part of our brain that knows better than to fall for the trick of the highlights reel takes the backseat.
Sometimes, we are reminded that social media truly is nothing but a highlights reel, and despite how many times we’re told this, it still leaves us feeling a little betrayed and deceived. For a while, after we’re reminded of this, we find it hard to trust anything that we see online which may be the smartest decision we could make.
While telecommunication is excellent in situations where remote help is available such as tech support or IT situations, there are a lot of situations where misunderstandings can derail a situation. Once derailed, it can take even longer to explain a situation, uncomplicate it, and get back on track than it would’ve to just speak to the person face-to-face, to begin with.
Communications Skills Exercise
Technology itself isn’t a bad contribution to today’s day and age. The problem lies with how we utilize technology. Yes, it has its place in our lives and has proven time and time again how helpful it can be on a daily basis, but there are also plenty of situations that should remain free of intrusive technology, yet don’t.
Next time you go out to a restaurant, take a look around at the people in other booths or at other tables. More often than not, you will notice that at least one person will have their phone out, whether it is already in their hand, hogging their attention entirely, or ready to be grabbed at the slightest hint of a notification vibration.
As previously stated, technology is not the enemy in this situation. The issue is that we have fallen back onto technology, and we now rely on it to be a trustworthy source of communication when it’s not. Some generations are more guilty of relying on technology than others.
For instance, the younger generations that are currently being quieted down in their younger years by being handed a tablet or a phone will not have strong communication skills that they can use later in life, whereas older generations had already established their communication skills by the time these technologies truly came into play. As more people continue to adopt the idea that technology is an easy and appropriate way to quiet down kids, the frequency of these skills will continue to decrease.
It's important for people like you, that are willing to do the work, to understand the importance of strong communication skills, utilize them in your future endeavours, and leave a lasting impression on whoever you communicate with. If someone comes to you with compliments that have to do with your ability to deliver a message effectively and efficiently, then you know that you’ve done your homework and that it has paid off.
There are a lot of levels to communication and the threads are all tightly knotted together. All the pieces of the puzzle rely on one another to achieve your goal. Without close attention to the details surrounding even just one of the levels, there’s a chance that the message won’t be as effective.
I want to congratulate you on putting forth the effort necessary to improve something that is not only important in your professional life, but in all aspects.
As an exercise, think about the last several arguments or altercations that you’ve been involved in and consider if there was an issue with communication in the situation. If there was, try to figure out which level of communication could have improved the situation and exactly what you would’ve done differently.
If you’re really fortunate, you’ll notice a pattern within the arguments with the people closest to you. If that’s the case, your relationship will stand a chance to improve greatly if you implement the small changes that you come up with in your exercise.
For example, in my personal relationship, I struggle with asking for help. Like many other people, I would ideally like for my partner to just understand that I need help by looking at me.
Yes, he knows me quite well but expecting him to be a mind reader simply isn’t fair and neither is getting frustrated or upset with him when he doesn’t just read my mind.
After countless arguments about the same few things that have simple solutions, we’ve started to work through solutions for our most common problems.
Rather than getting upset and snapping at the person that I’m supposed to view as my teammate, I take a deep breath when I’m feeling frustrated and remind myself that asking nicely will lead to both of us being happy much quicker.
Working on improving communication skills can eliminate an unfathomable number of misunderstandings and issues and ensure that genuine problems will get the attention they deserve, rather than a simple issue that could’ve been prevented with a little more time and effort.
Taking the steps that other people may not know that they need to take or are too uncomfortable to take can move society in the right direction, towards more civil situations and away from the unnecessary drama that we encounter on a regular basis. Imagine a world full of people who know what they want and how to express it, and people who are active listeners that can understand the message and even have a part in making it happen.
The Communication Skills for Effective Leadership blog post was written by Alyssa to 7needs. Her conversational style is evident in her writing. Let us know in the comments what you think! Check out the collection of our business strategy blog posts.
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